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Articles - Australian Ecommerce - effective b2b yet 2b? The challenges...

We are an Internet development and marketing consultancy currently based in Adelaide Australia, and if you believe what you read in our local media, it would seem that ecommerce in this country is alive and well. Perhaps that is the case, but when it comes to locating competitive ecommerce tools and b2b development services in this country - it's a totally different story.

I don't expect this article to win me many friends in Australia, but it's not intended to. It's a wake-up call for Aussies ... and for overseas b2b service providers, this article should make one thought scream through your minds - opportunity!

I love my country, its stark landscape contrasts and diversity of inhabitants. Sun, surf, sand, snow - it's all here. You can find isolation and peace within one hours drive from even the most populated city in the country. Technology-wise, we are touted as one of the most "switched-on" countries in the world. I sometimes wonder if that reputation is well-deserved.

Here's my view on Australian b2b services as of February 2002......

Australian ecommerce attitudes

It seems that generally, we haven't REALLY realised that we are no longer an island, separated from the rest of the world by huge expanses of water. Rum and beer are no longer the commodities they once were! Many of us haven't begun to understand that we are now a part of the global community and resistance is futile - and that doesn't have to be a negative concept. Patriotism is a wonderful thing, it gives us pride, but technological xenophobia and shunning strategic alliances with overseas organisations will not help us to take our place in this rapidly evolving global community. And this is exactly what we appear to be doing when it comes to e-commerce and the provision of B2B services.

OK, I can hear my fellow Aussie colleagues screaming at their monitors now and plotting my slow torture and death - at least I finally have your attention....

There's no point in telling me about all the huge multi-nationals that have an extensive presence in this country - I know they are there - I'm talking the provision of basic ebusiness services to small to medium sized business. There is also a difference between a strategic alliance and rolling belly-up in order to bring a few bucks into the country - something our government loves to do, while putting as many controls as possible over local ingenuity and initiative.

Web site hosting in Australia

So let's talk about one of the basics to start off with - site hosting. Taming the Beast.net is not hosted in Australia. There is two reasons for this, price and customer service. I hesitantly made the decision to host TTB in the USA about 15 months ago - and it was the best decision I ever made. With the site's rapid growth, bandwidth (data transfer) usage has increased by 5000 percent in the last twelve months. Based on this usage alone, hosting in Australia would cost me up to AU$1000 per month. I currently pay under AU$100 per month. In regards to customer service, although I am thousands and thousands of miles away from my host, if I send an email to them - they respond very quickly - day, night - 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Email support, when implemented properly, is a most efficient form of customer service. It sure beats wasting time "on hold" on the telephone, only to be answered by "tech support" people that know nothing more than what their usually all too brief training has taught them. And a fact little known to most people, at the beginning of the chain, one company has the ultimate control over all hosting and Internet access in this country. That kind of control can never be a good thing.

Domain name registration in Australia

Another area that disgusts me is the price of registering .com.au domain names. You can register a .com domain name these days for around AU$20 - $30 per year. Currently, the best price in Australia I have seen is at least double that. There are greater controls in the distribution of domain names in Australia, which isn't such a bad thing, and I guess it does require a few extra buttons being pushed to process the applications - but it doesn't justify the price. One company has a stranglehold on the .com.au domain space, I hope this changes soon. Until that time, we'll continue dealing exclusively in .com names wherever possible.

Shopping carts, gateway services and banks

The situation that caused me to see red, and spurred me on to write this article, has to do with the guts of ecommerce - shopping carts, gateway payment services and banks. For those of you who are considering implementing ecommerce components into your site, there's a list of related articles at the end of this article that may assist you in understanding the processes involved - before you even get to the stage of considering Internet financial transactions. 

If e-commerce is unknown territory to you, I strongly suggest that you research and compare services thoroughly before parting with your hard-earned money - it will save you a great deal of heartache and walletburn in the future.

Recently I was carrying out some research for a client for some specialised shopping cart software. To date, I haven't found it in Australia which is understandable as the specifications were quite stringent. I did find an appropriate service in another country. This service was very flexible and supported a wide range of well known payment gateways. I didn't expect any of those gateways to be Australian, but I sure didn't expect what happened next.....

In continuing my research, I called my clients bank where they have established an Internet merchant account. This bank is one of the largest in Australia. I asked them about the payment gateways they supported so I could marry the shopping cart and the bank's Internet merchant account services together. Without a payment gateway of some type, efficient Internet credit card transactions are impossible. As the customer service officer listed the services the bank supported, I noticed that they were all Australian. I asked whether they supported Verisign or Authorize.net, or other world leaders payment gateway services. I don't think the person I was speaking to had ever heard the names before and I nearly fell off my chair when they said that the bank did not support them! 

To add insult to injury, I had to call them because they hadn't responded to an email enquiry - which I had to make as their web site contained no Internet merchant payment solutions information! I had to leave 3 telephone messages over 2 days to have one of their ecommerce experts contact me for clarification. This banks failure to support such broadly accepted payment gateways such as Versign or Authorize.net will lose them business - millions and millions of dollars worth every year until they rectify the problem. Their lack of documentation and customer service will also turn people away who demand information on a right here, right now basis. Yet, like many other profitable Australian financial institutions, they are cutting back on staff. 

And as for Australian payment gateway services, they really need to begin broadening their horizons by creating further alliances with major international shopping cart services. 

More and more components of my business, and my clients' will begin moving overseas. It's a shame. You'll notice that there are very few links on my site to Australian b2b service providers, perhaps now you can understand why.....

Australian b2b ecommerce opportunities

If you are an Australian company focused on providing COMPREHENSIVE ecommerce service components with INTERNATIONAL support and relevant alliances, I'd love to hear from you. I'd also be interested in hearing from international companies who have a commitment to providing quality services to Australian clients. One way or another, we're commited to tracking down the best internet solutions for our clients - whether it be local or overseas solutions makes little difference to us now.

If you are an Australian b2b concern and you believe you have a competitive product or service, remember that you need to market those components properly. With the hundreds of hours I spend researching the Internet every month, if I haven't found them, or I'm not using/promoting them - you're doing something wrong.

Related articles:

Is ebusiness for my business?

Basic ecommerce web site design and development - Part 1

Basic ecommerce web site design and development - Part 2

eCommerce, Communications and the Global Internet Community

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
Tutorials, web content, tools and software.
Web Marketing, Internet Development & Ecommerce Resources

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